As the one year anniversary of the 23-day Israeli massacre in Gaza passes, media attention is rightfully focused on the atrocities and war crimes committed by the Israeli military on the imprisoned population in Gaza.
With two separate delegations intending to enter the Gaza Strip via its southern, Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing, Egypt now finds itself in the spotlight for have banned entry to one convoy, Viva Palestina’s humanitarian aid convoy traveling from Jordan, and having threatened to arrest and deport international activists with another delegation, the Gaza Freedom March in Cairo.
But further reasons bring Egypt to the spotlight: what many observers say is Egypt’s complicity in the siege on Gaza, imposed since shortly after Hamas was elected in early 2006; Egypt’s deafening silence as the Israeli assault on Gaza raged one year ago; and the new steel wall Egypt is having constructed along its border with Gaza.
While the cranes, drills and machinery being used range from Norwegian, Japanese and Egyptian companies, it is widely believed that the plans and financing for the wall come from the US.
Recently, the US consular in Egypt confirmed that the US is supporting the Egyptian government’s building of the underground wall — both technologically and monetarily. Egypt is second only to Israel in receiving the greatest amount of US foreign aid, not considering funds related to the US occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ostensibly, Egyptian authorities say the steel wall is meant to curb all transfers via the subterranean network. Realistically, however, tunnel workers say they can dig deeper and avoid the wall. Practically, it is in Egypt’s interest to allow the tunnels to work — Egypt itself profits, taking a cut from the foods, clothes, animals, appliances and even vehicles smuggled into Gaza.
The tunnels are the only reason Gaza has not tumbled into a full-blown humanitarian disaster. That they enable foods and medicines to enter Gaza has meant the severity of Israel’s continued closures of all other borders has not had reached its maximum impact.
The other crossing points into Gaza are Israeli-controlled. All but one, Erez in Gaza’s north, are either closed or used for extremely limited transfers of a scarce amount of basic goods and fuel. The Erez crossing is notoriously impossible for Palestinians to use as an exit point, even for those holding doctors’ referrals for medical care outside of Gaza.
With and the Egyptian government’s new underground wall and the closure of the Rafah crossing — Gaza’s sole exit to the outside world — Egypt’s complicity shines more than ever.
In January 2008, Palestinians broke through the former iron fence encaging Gaza, and for five days streamed into Egypt to buy provisions and breathe freedom.
Palestinian security along the Gaza side of the border say that work near the Rafah crossing has finished and that Egypt is now working westwards on the central stretch of the wall. In total, the new wall will be up to 11 kilometers long and 18 meters deep.
The following images taken for The Electronic Intifada show Egyptian authorities building the new underground wall on the border with Gaza (the wall in the foreground is a separate wall that was built shortly after Palestinians broke the siege in January 2008).
Eva Bartlett is a Canadian human rights advocate and freelancer who arrived in Gaza in November 2008 on the third Free Gaza Movement boat. She has been volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement and documenting Israel’s ongoing attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. During Israel’s recent assault on Gaza, she and other ISM volunteers accompanied ambulances and documenting the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.